Walead Beshty’s Travel Pictures is a series of photographs depicting the ruins of the former Iraqi embassy in East Berlin
The embassy building was given to Iraq in perpetuity by the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic. After the reunification of Germany in 1990 it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Walead Beshty learned about it shortly before the outbreak of the Gulf War, when he read a newspaper report about a fire in the building caused by squatters.
Initially Beshty saw the site as a relic of the Cold War but he became more intrigued with it as a legal anomaly. ‘It isn’t simply neglected, but is marooned by international law’, he has said. ‘German teens looking to drink beer and hang out can sneak in, but no agent of the state can legally set foot on the grounds because of laws protecting national sovereignty, even though the GDR and the Republic of Iraq no longer exist.’
In 2006 Beshty flew from Los Angeles to Berlin to photograph the building, and then back again to develop the photographs. During these journeys his film was sent through several airport X-ray machines. The long title of the work names all the codes for the airports through which the film travelled, and the names of the machines through which it passed. As a result of these journeys, bands and flares of colour appear on the prints. The images are therefore as damaged as the building they depict. Like the neglectof the embassy, the cause can be traced back to political history: X-ray machines were first installed during the 1970s to prevent hijackings, and airport security was tightened even further after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001.